Q. Last year, I was hospitalized after lying dehydrated in the ER for 18 hours while waiting for a room. I was admitted with the wrong diagnosis and given the wrong treatment (which included a broad-spectrum antibiotic). Then I was discharged with a C. diff infection.
The drugs to treat the C. diff cost $5,600, and when I received a bill for an unknown “service” beyond what my insurance paid, I asked for an itemized bill. My insurance had been billed fraudulently. Even though I am a nurse, I was a helpless victim while I was ill.
A. Hundreds of thousands of patients are harmed or killed each year because of mistakes in hospitals and outpatient surgical centers.
When you are sick, it is hard to protect yourself from errors. That’s why everyone should take an advocate to the hospital, so you have someone to ask key questions. We outline the questions and common mistakes in our book “Top Screwups Doctors Make and How to Avoid Them” (in libraries and online at www.PeoplesPharmacy.com).
Clostridium difficile (C. diff) is a hard-to-treat infection that often causes unremitting diarrhea. Hospitals are breeding grounds for C. diff, which can become life-threatening.
Q. I went through menopause several years ago and have struggled ever since with vaginal dryness and pain. A few years ago I used Premarin cream, but it was messy and smelly, and I was scared that it might promote cancer.
Vitamin E soft gels as vaginal suppositories were not messy. They did help some, but the physician’s assistant at our clinic said I shouldn’t use vitamin E that way.
I’ve recently seen TV ads for a pill called Osphena that is supposed to treat this. What can you tell me about that option?
A. Osphena (ospemifene) was approved a year ago for postmenopausal women suffering from painful intercourse. Though it is not estrogen, vaginal tissues respond to it as if it were, becoming thicker and less fragile.
You might ask your doctor about trying it for a short time. It is not a long-term solution, because uterine tissues respond to Osphena as if it were estrogen, increasing the risk for endometrial cancer. Any woman who develops vaginal bleeding while on Osphena should see her doctor promptly. Blood clots are another potential side effect.
Q. You have written about the dangers of aluminum, but you have not been keeping up with the evidence. Back in the 1960s, a few studies found high levels of aluminum in the brains of people with Alzheimer’s disease. The research called into question the safety of everyday household items such as aluminum cans, antacids and antiperspirants.
But the findings of these early studies weren’t replicated in later research. Experts have essentially ruled out aluminum as a possible cause of Alzheimer’s. Why won’t you back off?
A. We wish that the worries about aluminum had truly been laid to rest by recent research. Unfortunately, epidemiology and data show otherwise.
An aluminum researcher recently published a review titled: “Prolonged exposure to low levels of aluminum leads to changes associated with brain aging and neurodegeneration” (Toxicology, Jan. 6, 2014). Scientists have established that aluminum is toxic to brain cells (Immunology Research, July 2013). Although the connection between aluminum and Alzheimer’s remains controversial, new research has not exonerated this mineral.